The secrets of Boris Johnson’s Cabinet reshuffle were kept on a portable whiteboard, wheeled into the Prime Minister’s office on a trolley and pointed discreetly towards his corner desk, where aides thrashed out various sackings and promotions.
By the middle of Wednesday morning, hours before the first announcements were made, many of the moves were still in flux. But one key role had been set in stone – Liz Truss’s promotion to the Foreign Office in place of a seething Dominic Raab.
The latest stage in the rise and rise of Ms Truss has been interpreted by many as a Machiavellian move by Mr Johnson – keeping her out of the way of adoring local party associations and ‘setting her up to fail’ by handing her over to the hostile forces of the pro-EU mandarinate at the Foreign Office.
Liz Truss, pictured arriving on Friday in Downing Street is the Tory Party's first female Foreign Secretary, wants to use her role to mould her vision of post-Brexit Britain
PM Boris Johnson demoted Dominic Rabb, but made him Deputy Prime Minister to soften the blow of losing one of the four big offices of state
These bullets are, as usual, bouncing off Ms Truss, who professes herself delighted by a portfolio that she believes gives her the perfect platform to mould her vision of post-Brexit Britain.
The Tory Party’s first female Foreign Secretary is understood privately to share the dissatisfaction of backbenchers, who complain that the reality of the UK’s departure from the EU falls short of the buccaneering picture portrayed by its architects.
Instead of witnessing Britain’s transformation into a low-tax, low-regulation ‘Singapore on Thames’, they have seen the imposition of a new £12 billion annual levy to fund health and social care, been told to prepare for a corporation tax hike from 19 per cent to 25 per cent by 2023 and grown restive over the speed at which EU red tape has been cut.
Ms Truss is also impatient to ‘reclaim Brexit’ with Britain becoming an incentivising hub on the edge of Europe which could beat France and Germany in the battle for billions in international investment through low taxes and the removal of Brussels’s regulatory shackles.
As one ally puts it: ‘Liz wants to focus more on what she calls “economic diplomacy”, with Britain being more competitive in the global marketplace and promoting free enterprise across the world.’
Some senior Government figures are concerned by her promotion, however, with one source saying: ‘Liz will need a strong team around her. The Foreign Office civil servants killed Raab, and they could do the same to her.’
No 10 has kept Ministers on their toes about the reshuffle over the past fortnight, sending out false signals about its imminence.
Even as late as Wednesday morning, some advisers were being dropped hints that it was coming on Friday – although a leak on one WhatsApp group warning the printing of the Cabinet line-up for next month’s Tory Party Conference had been delayed from Tuesday to Thursday was a bit of a giveaway.
Preparations had been under way for several weeks, with the Prime Minister – and former Daily Telegraph columnist – taking what one source described as a ‘journalistic’ approach: ringing round trusted advisers and scribbling down notes as he canvassed opinion.
Central to the process were Dan Rosenfield, No 10’s chief of staff, and Declan Lyons, Mr Johnson’s Political Secretary, who marshalled the views of No 10 advisers and fed them to the Prime Minister.
Inevitably, Michael Gove posed the biggest conundrum – how could he be handed a